How doyou manage an interview question about your past employer when you left on avery bad note? And how do you daregive references knowing your boss would slam you in a minute? Here are my responses to two clientswho asked this very question just last week.
In thefirst case, the current job seeker was in the Private Equity field and this is trulythe “smallest of small” worlds. This employee did take some responsibility for the badrelationship. He slacked off a biton his job responsibilities because he was accepted into business school, knewhe was leaving, and was happy to finally be rid of a tough and unreasonableboss. But the manager came afterhim with a vengeance. Instead ofjust laying him off, he wrote ascathing note to HR and vowed to never employ him again. It wasn’t the first such letter thismanager wrote, which leads you to believe he didn’t have the best relationshipbuilding skills.
In thesecond case, the current job seeker was instructed by their manager to dosomething that was against the law and when they objected, they were told toeither comply or be fired. Theychose to be fired. Not an easychoice to make with two toddlers at home.
Here ismy advice to these two job seekers, and anyone else out there with a similarsituation:
· NEVER sayanything negative about your employer or your experiences at the firm. Never even hint at a bad relationshipbecause interviewers are listening for even the slightest bit of negativity inan answer or expression. It’s animmediate red flag thrown up against the candidate. If an interviewer asks you about your past manager’s style,speak about it in a positive manner. There had to be something positive about the person when you firststarted working with them – use what you can and make it authentic because bodylanguage is a powerful thing when people know how to read it … and more andmore are becoming adept at that!
· If youthink the person you are speaking to knows your past manager, or will call themdirectly, put that thought out of your head. Worrying about things that are out of your control will nothelp you in your job search. Concentrate on what you can control: how well you network and interview, quantifying youranswers, following-up properly, continuing to network.
· References: line up the people that can speakpositively on behalf of your past work experiences. This list could include past managers and co-workers, andeven those that reported to you. If you are out of school just recently, professors, placement staff anddeans can be used. If your manager is openly hostiletowards you, many times in business, we have matrix managers: people we report to in addition to ourdirect managers. I would securesuch a reference if at all possible.
· If youare asked directly why you are no longer there, and you are not currently ingraduate school, I suggest that you be honest. If someone wanted you to do something against the law, andyou left because you would not do such a thing, the smart thing is to walkaway. If they are an upstandingcompany, they will be impressed by your integrity. If they don’t appreciate such honesty and integrity, youdon’t want to work there anyway.
· If you prospectiveemployer asks for your past manager’s name, I would use a matrix manager if atall possible. Matrix managers canusually vouch for your work ethic and quality of work. References are checked, so proceed withcaution.
One lastthing to remember. There is noguarantee that your last manager and your prospective employer won’t know eachother and because of this you will not get the job. That is out of your control. But what is in your control is the number of jobs you applyfor, the skill with which you network, and your resiliency and fortitude withthe job search process. Besmart, really smart, about how you conduct your job search. Cast a wide net regarding companies,and industries if need be. Ensureyour job search skills are top notch & practice, practice, practice,because no one is born a good interviewer. Make your own luck here and as Winston Churchill once said“never, never, never give up!”